Today’s episode of The Good Business Podcast is all about my very favorite quote in the whole world. “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” by Arthur Ashe

Episode Transcript:

I’m Illana Burk, CEO of Your Life’s Workshop, coach to entrepreneurs and solopreneurs across dozens of industries and host of Good Business. With nearly 20 years experience helping hundreds of clients create profitable, ethically driven and sustainable businesses based on their life’s work, I’m here to teach you how to do great work, make great money, and make a positive impact without feeling like you need a shower afterwards.

Hi everybody. So you all read the name of today’s episode. I’m going to read it again out loud because it starts us off. This is a quote from Arthur Ash. “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Today’s episode is basically about the center of everything I do, and to understand it, I want to start by telling you a little story. 

The story is about my early experience in graduate school. For those of you that you may or may not know this, I have an MBA in sustainable enterprise. Now, this is basically like a green MBA. It was all about how to do business well without destroying the planet in the process. It was a very rigorous two-year program, and the first semester was intense. It was brutal. Basically, the whole program was about teaching us how to dig deeper, how to look at problems more holistically, and how to see what was at the root of the matter so that we could affect change. It was an incredible skill and one that I use in my coaching practice today and in pretty much everything I do, whether it’s environmentally focused or not. The first semester was the hardest. It was about all about critical thinking. Critical thinking, when you learn how to do it, means that you peel back layer after layer, after layer, after layer until you get to the root of the matter. Well, when you’re a young, do-gooder type, getting to the heart of the matter can be painful to see the depth of how much work we had to do and how futile it all felt. 

We all came out of that first semester really sad and depressed. I remember on the first day of the second semester everybody was hovering outside our first class and going, “Okay, here we are again. Hopefully, we get to the part where we hear the good news soon.” We were all kind of in that deflated place, and I honestly can’t even remember the name of the class that we were walking into. We walked in, and the instructor, who was an environmental consultant for companies like BMW and huge, huge companies, had written on the board in giant letters. It was one of those chalkboards that goes all the way down the length of the classroom He’d taken up all of it to write that quote. We all walked in and read, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” 

We looked around, and it was like the air in the room got thinner. It was like we all had breathed this collective sigh of relief. It was like, “Oh, thank God. Oh, wait, so we don’t have to do everything. We don’t have to solve every problem. We don’t have to be everything to everyone all the time, and we don’t have to save the world.” It was a huge relief. It was like, “Oh my God, okay, now I can actually approach problems with a clearer picture.” 

So, I was also really young. I had absolutely no idea who Arthur Ash was. I can’t even recall if he even wrote up who said those words at the time. It didn’t even really matter. If you don’t either, like don’t worry about it, but you should. Arthur Ash has an incredible story, but that’s not the point of what we’re talking about today. I’ll let Google take care of that for you. He’s a pretty inspiring dude that everyone should know about.

The salient point for today’s purposes is the quote itself; three simple sentences that changed the course of my whole life. Hyperbolic. Yeah. Probably a little crazy and also really, really true because at the time, I was like your ultimate do-gooding overachiever. I mean, I wouldn’t want to have a beer with me when I was 26. I was like talking to a vegan who does CrossFit, no offense anyone. It’s all I talked about. I remember I ruined Christmas that year because I was obsessing over how terrible and wasteful all those lights were. I was insufferable, and I was an overachiever, and I wanted to do great things in the world, and I was crushed by the helplessness that I felt in the scope of how much work was needed. Reading those words, to me, everybody kind of experienced this, but I know I can only speak from my own experience. For me, it was like a cell level sigh of relief. To this day, it’s still one of the most useful set of words in my toolbox when I have a client who feels like they’re about to fall apart under the weight of their big ideas.

If you want to affect change eventually or daily for some of us, eventually, you’ll hit a wall where you feel like nothing feels enough. You don’t have enough money, and you don’t have enough time, you don’t have enough knowledge, you don’t have enough creativity, you don’t have enough skill. It’s just this deep feeling of scarcity no matter what. “Oh my God, I’ll never be enough. I’ll never be able to do enough.” That can feel so crushing, and when everything feels like both too much and not enough all at the same time, these words are the truest thing I know. I come back to them again and again and again. Here I am, more than a decade later, almost 15 years later, and I still come back to these same words again and again and again. I’ve said them to clients dozens of times.

I want you to understand that it’s more than just a platitude. There’s more to it than that. There’s more here. I want to break down what they mean to me because it’s easy to read a quote and go, “Oh, that sounds nice. I feel so inspired. I scroll through Instagram, and I read a quote and, my God, my life has changed.” I want to go deeper because this is something that I’ve held onto this long. I think it’s worthy of a little depth. That’s why I’m doing a whole episode about it. It’s not a platitude; it’s not just clever words. We’re going to break it down. 

The first part: start where you are. You can’t be anywhere else. So really, why not just focus on that? Taking stock, paying attention, being present in your circumstances. Look around, right? Look around at where you are. Chances are you might not fully be aware of that, of where you are both in the marketplace, where you are among your competition, where you are in your physical space. Look at where you are and get a sense of it. Start to plant your feet and feel what it feels like to be grounded in what you’re doing and where you are right now. Okay. 

Second, use what you have. This one is trickier. It requires you to look at what you know to be true and also look further. Most people are actually really, really terrible at paying attention to their assets. For example, if you’re listening to this, you own a device with more computing power than the space shuttle. In five minutes, you could shoot a video with it and upload it to a communication platform that makes your message available to millions of people. Think about that for a second. Think about in that one simple thing in the cell phone you have in your pocket that you mostly use to scroll through Facebook and maybe listen to this podcast right now. You have something available to you that past generations could never have even dreamed of when they wanted to get a message out. There were strikingly few ways to do it, and the barrier to entry was extremely high. Now, the only challenge you have is to be fucking great. You have to break through the noise because everyone has the same availability of communication, but it doesn’t change the fact that you have that availability of communication. You have some things available to you that you are completely taking for granted. Using what you have is really about that. It’s noticing what you’re taking for granted — noticing what you have available to you and taking inventory of the assets at your disposal. When you can pay attention to the materials that you have in which to make change happen, you can start to see new ways of using them. 

Every time I rearrange my refrigerator, I’m like, “Oh my God, I forgot I had those condiments back there,” and I start thinking of recipes that I wouldn’t have necessarily used them for. Making yourself aware of what you have means that you can use them differently. Sometimes this is as simple as sitting down and making a list. What are the physical things that are available to me that I could be using in some way? What are the non-tangible things, the energetic things? Having the support of your family, that’s an asset. A lot of people do a lot more with a lot less. Notice those things. Really, really, really pay attention to those things and that you have more than you think you have. I’m not a big fan of the pros and cons lists. This is a “seriously, make a list of all the things you can think of” list. You’ll be amazed when you look at the list, and you’re like, “Oh my God, my little cashflow shortage right now feels insignificant because I have all of these other things available to me.” 

Finally, do what you can. Again, a little more complicated than it might seem. What most people might read as a push to stretch yourself, “You should do whatever you can do.” That’s not the way I hear that. This is just me; I’m only speaking from my connection with these words. I read this as the inverse. It’s a reminder for me to steady myself, to balance myself, to pay attention to what I really can do, not what my overachieving brain is trying to make me think I should do or think that I can do or think of what I’m capable of. 

It makes me look at my energy, my capacity, my ability to deliver at the level that I actually should and that I expect from myself. When I get honest about that, I get new answers. What I hear when I read this quote is, “where are you right now? Plant your feet and look around. What do you have available to you that you’re currently taking for granted? The answers are probably right in front of you. And finally, what’s possible right now?” It might be way less or way more than you think. Be open to both because, at the heart of all of that, you’ll find what’s true for you.

What’s true for me is that these nice, sweet, little, trite set of words never stop being true. I hope that has been illuminating for you all today. This was a big share for me. I know this might sound funny to break down a quote for a whole episode, but it’s been really important to me, and I know it’s been really important to a lot of my clients, and I’m hoping it’ll be really important to a lot of my listeners, too. Thank you all for tuning in, and I hope you have an excellent day. Bye. 

Thanks so much for hanging out with me today. For more information, visit www.thegood or


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